Choosing the right equipment to compete in IDPA


by Dave Solimini

Many of us who have been shooting IDPA for years have invested many thousands of dollars in guns, holsters, gun parts, trigger jobs, etc.  That does not include the cost of consumables such as ammunition or reloading supplies.  I'll try to hit on some key things to consider before making such purchases.

Expectations

First and foremost you need to decide what your expectations are for shooting IDPA.  If you just want to try out IDPA and want to get some trigger time with your carry gear, it's a great environment to get some quality shooting with little to no investment cost.  You might need an extra magazine or two and mag pouches- but that's really about it.  Your carry gun will very likely fit into one of the divisions with few exceptions.

For folks who have a firearm but who are not yet involved in the sport, the initial cost to start competing is usually fairly light.   A few magazines or loading devices along with a decent holster and mag pouches are all that's needed.   I'd strongly urge people in this category to get to a local practice session and see if anyone has any gear they can let you try out before making a purchase.

If you get into the sport and find yourself wanting to be competitive there are many things to contemplate.  This is where I'll spend most of the time in this article.

I compete in IDPA for one reason only - to be the best shooter I can be.  I shoot for the competition aspect of the sport only.  In my humble opinion, it's not a game well suited for defensive handgun training, at least if not supplemented with additional training.  You might ask why... the reason is simple.  The cardboard and steel targets don't shoot back!  The game is scored in time/points.  In real life situations retreating and/or surviving would be the most important consideration.   Shooting a hostage would be something that would be a complete disaster.   Many of the skills we work on are certainly needed in potential defensive situations, but are not enough by themselves.   Drawing from concealment quickly to engage a threat is a skill that is beneficial in both real life scenarios and IDPA, and there are many other such situations.  Let's get into the equipment now.

The correct firearm

Choosing the right firearm is the most important place to start!  Sure you can compete well with a compact (Glock 19, M&P Shield, etc.) but a firearm geared to the sport can help in many ways.   Let's take a Glock 34 for example.   It's much easier to shoot quickly and accurately because of the longer sight radius.  I really don't think the barrel length has much to do with accuracy.  My compact can shoot tight groups at most distances required in IDPA... but it takes more effort and is less forgiving.  The extra weight of the gun also helps you manage recoil.  Notice I said, "manage", not stop recoil.  You can't stop recoil... but, having said that, a heavier gun is easier to control.  It allows you to settle into your next shot more quickly.  In SSP or ESP, shooting slightly lighter 9mmor .40 that meet the Power Factor requirement is the way to go... no reason to shoot factory/full power .40 if you're trying to compete at the highest level.   Lastly and most importantly, be sure to choose a gun that fits you hands!!!  My first gun was a Sig 226- it was a great, reliable and accurate gun, but it was too big for my relatively small hands.   Using the proper grip made it very difficult for that first, long double action pull.   Ideally you should be able to get a good grip without sacrificing your trigger control.  You want to be able to get the pad of your index finger cleanly on the trigger so you can pull it straight back.  Otherwise you will have challenges maintaining a good sight picture without pulling/pushing the gun sideways.

Firearms are the single most important and most expensive piece of equipment we use.   Choose wisely and when possible- try some friends' guns before spending your hard earned cash.


Sights, triggers, grips

Some of the most common things people tweak on their guns are sights, grips, and triggers.  Choosing the correct sights can be tricky but, getting it right is a very import ingredient of good shooting.  Everyone's eyes are different and sometimes it comes down to personal preference.  I personally prefer black serrated sights – both front and back.  For most conditions (other that dim light) it's the best for me.  I like a nice simple sight picture.  The eyes have one thing to do... acquire the target then focus on a good sight picture.  Black sights pair give you feedback that is very easily managed.  You line up the top of the front and rear sights while maintaining equal air gaps on each side.  That's it... simple as pie.   Some like the fiber optic front sights.  Although I can shoot with them, I think the fiber optic actually distracts me from focusing on the top of the post and the air gaps.   Furthermore, the intensity of the fiber optic can vary quite a bit depending on lighting conditions or how dirty the fiber optic rod is.  Night sights are common on carry guns but the only advantage they offer during competition is in dim light conditions where a flashlight can't be used, which is relatively rare.   There are many other types of sights.   I haven't used them because I can't see how they could offer any benefit beyond those I am currently using.

I don't think there is much argument that a lighter trigger can help... to a degree.   I personally don't recommend a new shooter go buy a gun and immediately drop in a 2-pound trigger.  You should work on developing good trigger control with a stock trigger first.  That being said, I would never want a trigger in the 10 pound range like some of the stock triggers out there.   And don't get too enamored with that light trigger pull if it's not smooth.  I'd rather have a smooth 5-pound trigger than a gritty 3-pound trigger.  I'd also give up a pound or so to get a more pronounced reset as well.  Like sights, people like different triggers - regardless of weight.   Some can't deal with the mushy break of a Glock trigger and prefer the crisp break of a 1911.  They are quite a bit different.  I can deal with either but have a slight preference to the Glock type trigger.  Why?   Usually I'm shooting fast enough and prepping the trigger for the next shoot so quickly that I'm basically pulling straight back quickly and don't notice the break as much.  I'm usually 90% focused on the sights whereas the trigger is being engaged more subconsciously.   On difficult shots more of my focus switches to the trigger pull but again, I'm still pulling straight back so the break doesn't matter.   Maybe it's a bit of a personal preference, but I look for a smooth 3-pound trigger with a quick reset.

Another area to consider is the need (or not) for replacement grip or some kind of grip modification.  Optional grips or grip tape can help get a good grip on the gun and it can also help add a little extra meat to the gripping area if your hands are a tad too big.  Conversely, sometimes there are grip options or adjustable back straps that can help people with different size hands.  Like many of the things I've already discussed... there are pros and cons to using grip tape/stippling or changing grips.  Preventing that gun from moving in your hands in that hot summer heat can be a good thing.  However, the disadvantage is that you CAN'T easily make adjustments when you get a bad grip or draw.  No amount of grip tape/stippling can help a bad grip.  Be careful where you add stippling or grip tape as there are limitations in the rulebook.  Check the rules before stippling your $1000 SSP gun!  Depending on the stock grip, I'll usually use a little grip tape in key areas.  I know people that use grip tape wrapped around the entire grip area including front and back straps - I don't see a need for that much unless you have a major problem with sweaty hands and even then you can use ProGrip or some equivalent grip enhancer if needed.

Holsters and pouches

I'm very particular about the magazine pouches and holsters I use.  Unfortunately, like many other shooters, I could fill a closet with all of the holsters and pouches I have.  Many are for different guns... but some were just poor decisions that haven't gone up on the classifieds yet.  I always prefer a good Kydex over anything leather.  Good Kydex holsters and pouches can be easily adjusted and are very durable.  They also provide a smooth, consistent draw.  In my opinion, if you are looking for all out speed, leather is not a good option.   I believe that Kydex holsters are safer for IDPA training and practice as they never collapse during holstering a loaded firearm.


Hearing protection, eyewear, shoes, flashlights, miscellaneous


For some reason we have little issue finding reasons to drop hundreds of dollars for that new fancy gun but find it difficult to pay for good quality hearing or eye protection.  Those fancy Peltor active hearing muffs might not be the sexiest things to buy but are well worth it.  I use the ones that shut off automatically.  When I didn't, I'd frequently find myself at the range with a headset with dead batteries.  You can use cheap rubber plugs but they really limit your ability to hear other shooters - or range commands for that matter.  Active inserts are a nice option as well.

Some of us can only shoot with one eye open at a time while some of us shoot with two eyes open.  Regardless, why take the chance and skimp out on a good pair of shooting glasses.  I've seen people get hit from ricochets many times and if one of those pieces of a bullet jacket or lead hit an unprotected eye it could ruin your sight.  Good shooting glasses are designed to not only protect the eyes from these kind of projectiles, but often times wrap around your head enough to help protect your eyes from the side as well.  I'm biased to Rudy Project eyewear as I'm on the Rudy Project IDPA team but I believe they have some of the best shooting glasses made.  Rudy is very active in the shooting sports too, unlike some other brands.

Picking a flashlight that works reliably and easily for you while shooting is sometimes a difficult task.  Don't just pick a flashlight because it looks cool.  Remember you'll often find yourself needing to perform a reload in low light while maintaining hold of the flashlight before shooting again.  It takes some coordination and is challenging even for experienced shooters so choose wisely.  I use a small Sure Fire G2 - it's easy to manipulate and it's reliable and reasonably priced.  Make sure to keep spare batteries around!

Shoes.  Why would I bother talking about shoes?  Simple.... a bad pair can cause you to lose your footing in poor weather.  I've seen it too many times.  Usually when we are moving in a COF we are moving with a loaded firearm.  I do what I can to make sure I have the best shoes possible for these conditions.  At outdoor ranges with dirt, sand or mud, I use the Salomon SpeedCross 3s.  They offer a very aggressive tread pattern while keeping me comfortable.  Salomon is also a sponsor of mine, but again, I believe they offer a great shoe for action shooting sports like IDPA.

Then there are all kinds of other things like concealment garments, competition belts, etc.  cI like a belt that is very rigid to keep my gear as stable as possible.  I use the Wilderness belt.  There are many types of concealment including regular shirts and jackets.   You just want a good jacket that will clear your gear with a quick sweep of your hand as a snag can cost a lot of time in a match.

Summary

As you can see there are a fair amount of decisions that have to be made once you make the choice to step up your IDPA game.   Checking what others use before shelling out your own hard earned cash could save you a lot of money in the long run.  And if you are serious- buy the good gear first... if you don't... you'll just be buying it later!